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More Indiana welfare requests being submitted online

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More than half of the state's new applications for food stamps and other welfare assistance are being submitted online, Indiana social services chief Michael Gargano told lawmakers Tuesday.

Fifty-nine percent of new clients this month have applied online rather than face-to-face at county welfare offices, the secretary of the Family and Social Services Administration said.

"More and more people are taking advantage of being able to submit applications online," he told the Medicaid Oversight Commission.

His comments appeared to note a remarkable turnaround from the automation problems that plagued FSSA's welfare modernization initiative until early last year. The agency has since made more face-to-face service available in counties that had received online services, document imaging and other automation that was designed to speed up the application process for food stamps, Medicaid and other public safety net benefits.

That dual system of automation and more face-to-face service, which FSSA dubbed the "hybrid" system, has been implemented in all but 20 of Indiana's counties, Gargano said. It's due to be implemented in 19 of the remaining counties by late October, pending federal approval, and is tentatively set for implementation in Marion County and Indianapolis in February, he said.

A key advocate for welfare clients said the online applications included some submitted by clients using computers in county welfare offices with the help of public and private case workers.

"We're happy there's still that human connection," said David Sklar, president of the Indiana Coalition for Human Services, a group of advocacy organizations.

Sklar said it was clear that a totally automated system, including statewide call centers, posed problems for some people seeking benefits, and that the hybrid system was filling some of the gaps for people needing help.

"We are cautiously optimistic. I think it's clear that things are moving in the right direction," Sklar said. "If this system is proven to work, that's fantastic and we're behind it 100 percent."

After problems including lost documents and lengthy call center hold times, Gov. Mitch Daniels fired Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM Corp. as the lead contractor on the automation project and created the hybrid system to restore the face-to-face contact. The agency rolled out the new system in southwestern Indiana in January 2010, and extended it to other parts of the state as it gained approval from the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service, which administers the food stamps program. The system was implemented in 13 northwestern and north central Indiana counties in June.

The 20 remaining counties are in central Indiana.

FSSA and IBM are suing each other over the canceled contract.

Gargano also presented lawmakers with data showing Indiana welfare rolls expanding to 1.3 million as of June 30, up 4 percent from a year earlier, and the hybrid system performing better than when the eligibility intake system was converting from the old, entirely face-to-face system to the automated system. He said applications are being processed more quickly, backlogs are dropping, and error rates are declining.

State Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington, said she knew "anecdotally that it's gotten better" because she's no longer hearing from constituents complaining that they've lost their benefits.

"I'm not getting the frantic phones calls," Welch said.

Sklar said Indiana should have more people enrolled for benefits, given the economic downtown and the number of people living in poverty. He said remaining processing errors, too little outreach by FSSA, frustration by clients in completing the application process, and other factors were holding enrollment rates down.

"We're still not where we should be," Sklar said.

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  • Compassion
    For those you don't know what it feels like to have
    All adults in the home working with NO cell phone, cable,eating out, drives a old car,new clothes or name-brand items.
    This program helps families like ours. We work hard
    And still struggle. We are thankful and disappointed
    In certain ethnic groups that choose to scam the system have kids for money and deal drugs on the
    Side to hide their income.
    Some people actually need it.
  • really?
    are they suppose to give up what they worked for just because they have a set back? Ummm....YES. If it were me, and it has been me who has lost a job and the company is no longer in existance...yes, I had to give up lots of things I worked very hard for, and luxuries were no longer on the menu; Do you think I WANTED to go into my savings to pay my house paymnet? Any government assistance should go to those in need...but not if they're driving an Escalde, or paying for service to an I-Phone; I know a lot of well educated people who lost their jobs due to this economy; and they are upside down on their house, so they can't sell it....but they are not accepting the government help. they want to show their kids that they can stand on their own 2 feet, and go without extra's and be just fine. They have no cable TV, no "extra's" and they drive older vehicles.....and took much lesser jobs than their expience and education should provide. They are the true American Hero's....making it work everyday, and standing on their own 2 feet without their hand out.
  • Pizza Shmizza
    No, I don't think "enough said." I think you are stereotyping a situation you know nothing about, reporting as a third party from heresay.
  • Some People
    I am so tired of people who always try to stereotype all people the same. The only pizza place that will allow you to buy pizza with foodstamps is papa murphys and thats because it is uncooked. And to say they actually drove off in a cadillac escalade or they r using an iphone or shouldn't have internet if they are on assistance is rediculous because you don't know their situaton, they may have just lost their job or something and needed temporary help, are they suppose to give up what they worked for just because they have a set back? All I know is people tend to automatically assume and judge without even having proof..
    • Means Testing Anyone?
      You should have to give up your home internet service (and a lot of other things) before you can qualify.
    • Still needs some tweaking
      I understand and agree with some of the comments concerning misuse of the system. Now that we have the application process smoothed out, when will we work to make sure that the benefits are used properly? I don't begrudge anyone help if they need it. But I do get very frustrated when I watch the foodstamp cards being used to buy $15 worth of soda, chips and candy and then cash being used to purchase tobacco, all in the same transactions. We have the technology to track what can and can't be bought with these tax dollars and we need to demand that it be put into place.
    • medical benifits
      i guess you don't need help and thats good but i guess someone should tell you that there's two different cards one for medical and the other for tanf and food stamps....just thought you might want to know........
    • TANF- benifits
      i'm a single mom and my childrens dad was ordered to pay "$0.00" a week child support after he demand d.n.a. just tryiong to get out of it. i don't know what i'd do without this help. i'm glad to here that this system is up and working. people do have access to p.c. throu the library so not everyone has a p.c. but still can take care of business and i've had my paper work lost so i know the worry that goes into that. hope it works...
    • Guest
      The Hoosier Healthwise card is for medical benefits. Food stamps, as well as TANF benefits, are on the Hoosier Works card - rather ironic, no?
      • Overhaul the system NOW!
        Our daughter works at a local pizza place. She had a woman come in and pay for her pizza with food stamps and then left in a Cadillac Escalade. I'm sure she also had the usual handicap tag also. Enough said.
        • If you have the internet you dont need welfare!
          I am tired of standing in line at the grocery store and the person in front of me is on a IPhone paying with there hoosier healthwise card!
          • gss
            That's because when you go down to submit your application, they tell you to come back like 4 days later. Like we have the money to wait 4 days to get an answer.

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